Picasso (1881-1973) was born in Malaga, Spain. He was the son of a professor in the School of Arts and Crafts, and is said to have become his father's artistic superior at the age of ten. He held his first exhibition in 1894 at the age of 13, and was accepted to the Barcelona School of Fine Arts a year later.
Picasso was admitted to the Royal Academy, Madrid, in 1897, as an advanced student. He demonstrated his artistic excellence by completing an entrance exam in one day, for which the institution usually gave a month to complete. Deciding he was not destined to become an academic artist, he soon returned to Barcelona- Spain’s cultural centre. A regular at the Els Quatre Gats, the artists, poets, and writers who also frequented the cafe would become a significant influence on his style and outlook. It was during this time that Picasso began to experiment with abstraction and develop a different colour palette. This was the first of many distinctive ‘Periods’ of his career.
In 1900, Picasso and fellow artist Casagemas moved to Paris, where they opened a studio in Montmartre. Picasso's first solo show opened at the Galerie Vollard a year later. At this time Paris was popular with avant-garde artists, and its society of creatives fed his artistic vision. His influential ties with artists like Henri Matisse, Joan Miro and George Braques also left evident traces that can be followed through his intellectual and formalistic development.
This time became to be known as Picasso’s ‘Blue Period’. Works from this era are typically characterised by the use of varying blue hues, and correspondingly melancholic subjects: poor beggars and sad women.
1905 marks another distinctive development in what is referred to as his ‘Rose Period’. Picasso had overcome previously debilitating bouts of depression, and was now in love with the model, Fernande Olivier. Moreover, art dealer, Ambrose Villard, had bought a large number of his paintings, which had given him a further boost and financial stability. This change in spirits is reflected by the brighter yellow, pink and red shades, which began to take prominence in his pieces. The lighter palette appropriately reflected the much more jovial subjects than he previously depicted. Works from this period typically feature circus performers and harlequins.
Picasso's style was shifting frequently and drastically, but perhaps the most significant and revolutionary time for Picasso came in 1906, when his work was influenced by modern contemporaries like Cezanne, and Negro art. Having examined different ways of seeing, and following numerous studies and alterations, Picasso produced the first cubist painting in 1907, ‘Les Demoiselles D'Avignon’.
Cubism, as he developed it with George Braque, strove to alter dimensional representation of depth and perspective in painting. By depicting the faces of the figures as seen from both front and profile positions at the same time, Cubism introduced movement in a necessarily temporally fixed art form, and a more authentically dynamic means of depicting living subjects.
Always more than just a painter, the artist went on to work on theatre costume and set design for Diaghilev ballets. He worked with them between 1917-24, where he met his first wife, Olga Khoklova, a noble and ballet dancer.
During the 1920s and 1930s Picasso’s work was heavily influenced by the political unrest across Europe. During this time, the artist’s interests were taken up much more with realism than the rest of his career. This is commonly referred to as his ‘Classical Period’.
In 1937 Picasso produced ‘Guernica’, which is perhaps his most politically charged work, and one of the pieces for which he is best known. He was an ardent pacifist, and often used his standing in society to voice protest - Guernica being a protest against the contemporary Spanish Civil war. The painting highlights the stark brutality of conflict, and the realities of death. Unlike some of his contemporaries like Dali, who depicted war, but were careful not to align themselves too strongly with one political position, Picasso’s political integrity became a selling point of his art and stature as a figure in society.
His work and personal political position continued to be a matter of controversy throughout the rest of his career, but for many that followed him, this was something that made him authentic in a culturally important way.
Picasso is acknowledged as being most prolific painter in the world. Over his 78 year career, he created 13,500 paintings, 100,000 prints and engravings, and 34,000 illustrations which were used in books. During his career, he also produced 300 sculptures and ceramic pieces. Sadly, it is thought that approximately 350 pieces were stolen during his career, which is far more than any other. He has sold more pieces than any other artist, and some of his works have fetched a higher price tag than any other artist in history.
In 1973, Picasso passed away in France, and was buried on the grounds of his estate.
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